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LIVE REPORT: Mastodon & Red Fang
Tom O'Boyle , February 15th, 2012 05:28

Tom O'Boyle reports from returning metal heroes' show in Manchester

All pictures by Katja Ogrin

Mastodon’s Crack The Skye tour was a sensory overload that supported the record's mystical complexity. With new album The Hunter, they have produced a no less powerful, but certainly a simpler set of songs, and tonight's show holds a lot of promise for those who appreciated the prog rock spectacle of Crack the Skye performed in its entirety but longed for the instantaneous thrills of the band's older material.

Portland’s Red Fang are one of the most hotly tipped names in metal thanks to the release of one of 2011’s best albums Murder The Mountains but also three idiosyncratic and entertaining music videos. The videos portray a larger than life gang of beer guzzling, funny-men, so it is somewhat of a surprise to see a rather subdued and self-deprecating band take the stage and plough into opener ‘Hank Is Dead’, the video for which made its début mere days ago.

The subdued feeling does not last long, as there really is only one word needed to describe this band’s modus operandi: riffs. Huge, grooving riffs bolstered by drummer John Sherman’s thunderous technique. An initially quiet crowd grows increasingly louder in their enthusiasm, building ultimately to a deserved crescendo for storming closer ‘Prehistoric Dog’. Fresh off the back of a successful US tour with Mastodon and a soon to be completed European run, the band are set to return to the UK in April for a series of headlining shows and tonight serves as a great taster.

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Dillinger Escape Plan, by contrast, are much more confident of their arsenal. Front-man Greg Puciato looks like the love child of Maynard Keenan and Trent Reznor, and indeed cuts as charismatic a figure on stage. Cocksure enough to dismiss announcing his band with a wave of the hand and a ‘Yeah you know who we are, we’re the Dillinger Escape Plan’, they seem poised, ready to attack, and attack they do in a vitriolic outburst of spasmodic rage. Too often the complexities of their music are lost in a live setting, and this once again seems to be the case during opener ‘Panasonic Youth’. After a bit of technical fiddling the full spectrum of their sound is unleashed. Second song, 'Room Full of Eyes', opens up an almost constantly seething circle pit. Guitars are brandished weapons, amps are there to be scaled and leapt off, and each song contains more riffs and time changes than most other band cram into an album.

The technicality of their songs at times can almost feel too much but letting the assault wash over you is a mesmerising experience, especially during the grooves of 'Gold Teeth on a Bum', which effectively offset the otherwise furious nature of the majority of their material. (People wanting to hear more of Dillinger and Mastodon together should be aware that a side project entitled The Giraffe Tongue Orchestra featuring Dillinger guitarist Ben Weinman, Mastodon’s Brent Hinds, as well as ex Mars Volta drummer Thomas Pridgen and ex Jane's Addiction bassist Eric Avery is in the works; an exciting prospect indeed.)

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It has been almost a year to the day since Mastodon played this venue and tonight they are a very different beast. Gone are the Crack the Skye tour’s video screens and high concept hypnotism, replaced instead with a simple backdrop, and a band that seem more confident than ever. They have suffered in the past from being a little hit and miss when playing live, especially in the surrounds of festivals where the intricacies of their songs were too often lost to the wind. These are problems of the past. They open with ‘Dry Bone Valley’ from The Hunter, a song that showcases the record's pop sensibilities, as well as drummer Brann Dailor’s impressive ability to sing whilst deftly delivering his signature, fill heavy style of playing. He puts men with more ostentatious drum kits to shame, capable of dynamically stunning intricacy on a relatively simple set up.

As entertaining a listen as The Hunter is on record, it makes for even greater show live. Each track aired, and there are many, turns into one sing along after another. The 'Curl of the Burl' reaches football stadium levels of participation. The record makes sense live; it was written to deliver to an adoring crowd sat into the palm of their hands, and does so, reaching its peak with a thrilling rendition of ‘Blasteroid’.

'Megalodon' from breakthrough album Leviathan inspires a whirlpool of a circle pit, Dailor on his feet at the break of the song, demanding the furore that he receives in earnest. Songs like 'Colony Of Birchmen' from Blood Mountain demonstrate how important a record for the band it was, bridging the gap between the heaviness of earlier records and the soaring choruses of The Hunter. Older fans are sated with the lumbering crunch of 'March of the Fire ants' and 'Where Strides the Behemoth' from Remission. Bassist Troy Sanders and Guitarist Brent Hinds trade subhuman screams, while guitarist Bill Kelliher is as stoically self-assured as ever. It’s gratifying to see the band obviously enjoying the set as much as the audience. Crack the Skye is represented by its title track and a rousing rendition of 'Ghost of Karelia', but tonight really is the night of The Hunter.

A rapturously received 'Blood and Thunder' closes a set that overruns the curfew but never outstays its welcome. That would have been more than enough, but an encore of the idiosyncratically heart-warming 'The Creature Lives' goes only further to consolidate the truly anthemic powerhouse that Mastodon have become. When members of The Dillinger Escape Plan and Red Fang join the band on stage for one last sing along, it is clear that we may all have just witnessed the best metal tour that will hit these shores all year.